Saturday, 31 January 2015

Cormorant conclusion.

I could see the Cormorant sat on the same fishing peg from the garden this morning so I wandered over to have another look at it. It was lying down just as it had been the other day and it allowed me to get just as close. It seemed to be fine although you wouldn't think so looking at what it had just parted with from its rear end but then Cormorants can crap for England or whatever country they come from.

Back in what seems to be its usual, if now messy, spot
I left the Cormorant sat on its fishing peg and had a quick walk up to the reserve to see if the Water Rail was showing but I didn't even get a glimpse of it this time. It wasn't a waste of time though as a Song Thrush landed on a post in front of me and I managed to get a half decent shot before someones dog hurtled past me and flushed it. Grrrr!

Song Thrush
As the park was getting quite busy I decided it wasn't worth hanging around so I headed back home. On the way back the Cormorant was still there but the sun had come out and it was now stood and drying out its wings. Again it allowed me to get within a few metres of it and I have to conclude that it is just an exceptionally confiding individual. This is a very risky strategy for a species that is so unpopular with anglers but as it appears to be a 3rd winter bird it is a strategy that has worked for it so far.

I am no expert but the pattern of arrested moult on this bird suggests it is in its 3rd winter.

Good light and a close view reveal the bronze sheen of the coverts and mantle.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

A bit of the white stuff

The day started with some very heavy snow showers making for some wintry scenes and tricky driving conditions. It was rather wet snow and although it covered the ground it didn't accumulate to any depth. It certainly wasn't weather for venturing out other than a quick dash to try and capture an image to show the intensity of the snow fall.

The snow showers didn't last long but were quite heavy at times.
The garden was busy with birds as would be expected in such conditions. A Grey Wagtail was on the snow covered lawn looking for crumbs of food that had dropped from the feeders. Around 30 Goldfinches, 8 Chaffinches and 5 Greenfinches were tucking into nyger seed and sunflower hearts. Up to 8 Blackbirds and 3 Song Thrush alternated between fat cakes, fat balls, apples, and sunflower hearts. A few Robins and Dunnocks chased each other around in between bouts of feeding. The usual Blue, Great and Coal Tits also came and went from time to time as did 8 Long-tailed Tits. Lastly a few Collared Doves, Woodpigeons, Starlings and House Sparrows also got their fill as did the regular male Blackcap.

The snow showers eased off as the morning went on so I went for a walk around the park just across the road from home. I hadn't gone far when I came across a Cormorant that was lying on one of the fishing pegs. It was unusually approachable so I thought it may be injured or snagged on fishing line but as I got closer it stood up and seemed to be fine. I backed off a bit when it looked like it was going to enter the water and it quickly settled back down again. Although it looked in good condition there could have been something wrong with it as it is very unusual for a Cormorant to allow such a close approach.

This Cormorant allowed me to get within 7 metres of it before it even bothered to stand up. I will look for it again over the next few days to try and find out if there is something wrong with it or if it is just unusually confiding.
After leaving the Cormorant I wandered up to the reserve area where a Water Rail has been showing quite well. I soon came across it but a frequent procession of passers-by ensured it didn't come out into the open. I hung around for a while but every time it looked like it would show well more people and dog walkers would pass by so I decided to leave it for another day. It has had a lot of optics pointed at it recently so its not surprising that it has become a bit weary of all the attention.

This record shot of the Water Rail was the best I could do in the circumstances.
I ended my walk by checking out the Black-headed Gulls by the car park. The German ringed bird was the only ringed gull present and is now starting to get its black head. In previous winters this bird has not been recorded after 7th February so it will be interesting to see if this year is any different.

German ringed Black-headed Gull
There have been very few Coots coming out by the car park this winter and I hadn't seen any ringed birds amongst them until today. I took a few photos of this ringed Coot to get the ring number which I soon recognised as belonging to a bird that was ringed near Penarth in south Wales back in December 2010. I recorded this bird several times last January and it probably bred at the park that summer. You can see a recovery map and read about some of the earlier sightings here.

This Coot was ringed at Comeston Lakes near Penarth, not far from Cardiff, during the very cold winter of  2010/11.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Tits Up

A ringing session at Crawford yesterday (22nd) produced far more Blue Tits than expected given its farmland setting. I have been baiting the site with the aim of attracting buntings, finches and sparrows but they failed to turn up in a any number and those that did mainly approached the feeders along the hedge line and largely avoided the nets. There are plenty of stubble fields in the area so they may not be struggling for food yet and although it has been cold we haven't had enough snow to cover them and restrict the feeding opportunities they provide. Ringing totals (retraps in brackets) were: Blue Tit 13 (4), Great Tit 3 (1), Willow Tit (1), Dunnock 1 (2), Robin 1 (1), Blackbird 2 (4), Woodpigeon 1, Bullfinch 1, Goldfinch 5, Greenfinch 5 (2), Chaffinch 3 (1), Reed Bunting 1, Yellowhammer 1. 

This adult Blue Tit had a long wing length of 69 mm
The site still has plenty of potential and catches may improve once the food supplies in the surrounding farmland are depleted. Birds around included 32 Tree Sparrows, 2 Reed Buntings, 3 Bullfinches, 4 Corn Buntings and 8 Yellowhammers. Chaffinches were surprisngly scarce and the only birds seen were the 4 that were caught. Up to a 18 Greenfinches frequented the feeders and few Goldfinches joined them from a flock of 44 that were feeding in some alders nearby.

This male Bullfinch was a nice addition to the finch total.
Male Reed Bunting.
Watching how the birds arrived at the site and then approached the feeders and the food on the ground caused me to have a rethink about the current set up. After I had taken down the nets I improvised some additional cover by digging in some large branches and I also repositioned some of the feeders. Hopefully this will result in more birds crossing the net rides when approaching the food and lead to better catches of the target species.

Tree Sparrows have a very patchy distribution in the area and they are absent from many sites they used to occupy.

The area still holds a small population of Yellowhammers but like Tree Sparrows they are not as common as they once were.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Normal Service Resumes.

It has not been the best start to the year for me in many respects hence the absence of posts over the last couple of weeks. The weather hasn't been great for much of the time and when I have been able to get out the birding has been distinctly poor or average for the time of year. Having said that there have been a few bits and bobs of interest and I finally managed to catch a Blackcap (a male) in the garden on the 10th. This was almost certainly the bird that first appeared in the garden on the 1st and was seen regularly thereafter. The female that also appeared on the 1st didn't linger and wasn't seen subsequently. A second male Blackcap found the fat feeders on the 16th and was caught and ringed the same day so that species is not giving me the run around anymore. However the French ringed bird which evaded capture in Andy's garden appears to have moved on so that one certainly has got the better of me to say the least.

When caught this male Blackcap had much more brown in the cap than it appeared to have in the field. Interestingly the second male caught was similar in appearance.
The supply of fat cakes in the garden is also attracting a few Starlings and I have caught and colour-ringed another 10 for my RAS project. Their bill colour changes ahead of the breeding season with the bills of both sexes gradually changing from black to yellow and also turning blue at the base in males and pink at the base in females. Two of the birds caught today were well on the way to completing this transition with the male being a bit more advanced than the female. Interestingly the change from black to yellow ahead of the breeding season is quite slow and takes several months but the change from yellow to black at the end of the breeding season is fast by comparison and only takes a few weeks at most.

Male Starling showing blue base to bill.

Female Starling showing pink base to bill.
I wasn't going to put out food at any of my ringing sites this winter, other than the garden, but temptation has got the better of me. I started feeding the Crawford site towards the end of last year and it is starting to attract a good mix of birds including a small flock of Tree Sparrows, a bird I don't catch very often. A ringing session there yesterday (18/01/15) produced 37 new birds and 5 retraps from 2 nets in a visit that was hampered when freezing fog rolled in and turned the nets white. Totals with retraps in brackets were: Blackbird 8 (2), Song Thrush 2, Robin 4 (1), Greenfinch 6, Chaffinch 4, Goldfinch 2, Tree Sparrow 3, Blue Tit 7 (2), Great Tit 1.

Lastly I checked the Black-headed Gulls on the park across the road today and the German ringed bird was still present. I have now recorded this bird 37 times over the last three winters so I think we can safely say it is faithful to its wintering site.

Yet another record shot showing part of the ring number and address of the ringing scheme. This must be one of the most photographed Black-headed Gull legs and rings in the world.
Hopefully normal service has resumed and I will be back to regular blogging for the rest of the year.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Blackcap run around

I received a call from local birder, Andy Makin, earlier in the week regarding a female Blackcap that was feeding in his garden. It had been there a few days but he had only just noticed that it was ringed. He had managed to get a few photos which allowed him to read some of the inscription on the ring and he had phoned me to see if I could help him trace it. He read out a few numbers and the word 'museum' which didn't mean a lot on their own but when he said the word on the middle line was 'Paris' it took it to a whole new level of interest.

I was able to tell him that there should be 7 numbers on the ring and no letters in the combination but he still wasn't sure if he had the full number. As there are very few records of French ringed Blackcaps being found in the UK in winter I arranged to go and try and catch it to confirm the ring number. There is little doubt that the increase in wintering Blackcaps in the UK is due to milder winters and a wider range of foods being provided in gardens which has led to the improved survival of wintering birds. However there is some debate as to why this trait evolved in Blackcaps especially now that the recoveries of wintering birds are showing they originate from a fairly limited area of central Europe. More recoveries can only help to unravel this and one paper even commented on the lack of recoveries involving northwest France. If you wish to read some academic papers on the subject some interesting reading can be found in Ringing & Migration here,   The RING here  and  Ornis Fennica here.

So on the penultimate day of 2014 I went Andy's well fed garden and after a quick recce put up one net. The Blackcap had been seen feeding that morning and given the perfect weather conditions and good layout of the garden a quick capture seemed on the cards. The ringed Blackcap quickly returned to feed but came and went to a feeder on the wrong side of the net rather than its usual feeder. The net was repositioned to cover the bird's approach to this feeder but it went under, over or around unlike 4 Blue Tits, 2 Coal Tits, 3 Dunnocks, a Wren, 4 Blackbirds and a Collared Dove. Adjustments to feeders and the addition of a second small net didn't help either and in the end I just had to admit defeat.

Andy's Garden with net set up in the first location.
While I was failing to catch the Blackcap Andy showed me the photographs he had taken and I was able to confirm that he had captured most of the inscription with the only slight doubt being over the first number. As this first number is either a 1 or a 7 (part of it can be seen and 7 looks the more likely) it narrows the ring number down to only two possible combinations at most. It is very unlikely that both these combinations have been used on Blackcaps and females at that and even if they had the combination starting with 1 may have been used so long ago that it rules that possibility out as the bird was clearly a first year (judging by his images showing the tail). I was confident that Andy had captured enough of the inscription to establish the ringing details for this individual and I will be submitting the details via the BTO, with appropriate notes, on Andy's behalf. I will post details of the ringing location when we get them back in due course.

I had commented to Andy that I hadn't seen any Blackcaps in my garden so far this winter so I was more than a little surprised to see one in the garden this morning. I actually did a bit of a double take but a male Blackcap was one of the first birds I saw in 2015, if through rather bleary eyes. It was feeding on an apple only a few feet from the window as I supped my first cup off coffee of the year. If that didn't rub just a little bit of Blackcap salt in my failure to catch wounds the appearance of a female Blackcap a few minutes later certainly did. The weather was rather grim, heavily overcast and breezy with occasional rain so putting a net up was out of the question but If I had been able to they would have probably evaded me given my recent form. ):

One thing that was really interesting was seeing the male and female face up to each other and then have a bit of a mid-air battle. There are several apple halves around the garden and numerous fat cakes but there was clearly some territorial or food dominating behaviour being displayed. In many respects it was much like that seen in the garden Robins. 

Blackcap, almost the first bird I saw in my garden in 2015 and certainly the first my eyes actually focused on. You are taking the **** was my first thought. It is a rather grainy image because of the poor light even though it was taken later in the morning when the conditions had improved, slightly.
So my birding New Year started much as the last one ended with Blackcaps - frustratingly so near yet so far.

Now in a complete departure from this tale the following You Tube video is a recently rediscovered music track. I had tried to put a top 10 together recently but that quickly became a top 15 and then I gave up because I knew I had missed out loads of good tunes. If you were to ask me what my favourite bird is or top 10 birds are I would have a similar problem so there is a slight birding connection in that respect. 

Happy New Year